Updated: Moving from military dictatorship to military domination

5 04 2017

The Bangkok Post quotes the junta and its minions in saying that a “general election will be held in November next year [2018] at the latest now that the date has been set for the promulgation of Thailand’s 20th constitution, according to the roadmap set by the National Council for Peace and Order[they mean military junta].”

That calculation is based on a “schedule announced in the Royal Gazette on Monday,” which has the king finally and with great pomposity, signing the junta’s much amended and still secret constitution tomorrow.

By that calculation, an “election,” under the junta’s rules and direction, must be held “19 months from that date or no later than Nov 6, 2018.”

Frankly, given that the junta promised “elections” 12 months after it illegally seized power in May 2014, we will believe it when it happens.

But as we have said before, the “elections” will change very little. A few countries like the USA will accept a military-backed but formalistic “elected government,” and that will be seen by some as a plus.

In fact, as planned at the moment, the military and junta will remain the power in Thailand, much as it was through the 1980s. But back then it was General Prem Tinsulanonda ruling with strong palace-backing and a military-dominated senate. This time it will be whoever the junta wants in the premier’s seat backed by the junta’s constitution and its multiple unelected bodies, including the unelected junta.

The Dictator seems reasonably sure that the constitution will be signed tomorrow: “As far as I know, [the king] will sign the constitution on April 6 and I will countersign it as prime minister…”.

Constitution Drafting Committee chairman Meechai Ruchupan appeared somewhat disoriented in his comments. Acknowledging that Article 44 powers will continue, he babbled that the “power cannot be used in violation of the core principles of the constitution. Nor can it change the new charter itself.” Of course, that would depend on interpretations by the Constitutional Court and other bodies developed by and beholden to the junta.

Then on the ban on political party activity, Meechai seemed befuddled, saying he “believes it will be eased after the political party bill is enacted” and then adding: “In any case, they can run their normal operation.” We are not sure what “normal” is and we are sure that the parties don’t know either.

Lt Gen Sansern Kaewkamnerd, spokesman of The Dictator, noted that:

Members of the cabinet, NCPO [junta], NLA [puppet assembly] and NRSA [puppet National Reform Steering Assembly] who want to run for MPs must resign within 90 days after the new charter comes into effect. The rule applies only to MPs, not senators or cabinet ministers.

He added: “Once the constitution comes into effect, enacting a law will be more complicated and public hearings and opinions of related government agencies must be taken into consideration…”.

It will be “more complicated” for the junta even if the “complications” were designed by the junta. But Article 44 doesn’t get complicated at all. It just stays and its use is legal before and after “elections.”

In the end, the junta’s road map is a representation of how to move from military dictatorship to continued military domination of politics. That’s the plan, the road map. We retain some hope that the people will reject the dons of the military mafia.

Update: Meechai was certainly addled on political parties, so the junta has made things clear. Deputy Dictator General Prawit Wongsuwan said “restrictions on political parties’ activities will not be eased even after the enactment of the new constitution.” He added: “Please wait until things become orderly. There is still about one year left [before the poll is held]…”. About a year? Or about two years? The Nation reckons the election date remains unclear.





King, junta and politics

21 03 2017

We are not sure if we have ever quoted from StrategyPage previously, but a recent article on their webpage caught some attention.

Their story, titled “Thailand: Actions Have Long Term Consequences,” is the one we mention here. We have no way of judging the veracity of some of its claims when it comes to palace and king, but felt some of them worth quoting.

As is the custom in Thailand, compromise is in the works between the new king, the military government and the democratic majority. Once the new king took the throne at the end of 2016 he apparently made a deal with the military government that would, in theory, benefit both of them in the long run. First, the king wants to be freed from constitutional and parliamentary restrictions that were part of the 1930s deal that turned the absolute monarchy into a constitutional one. The military government is in the process of changing the constitution and that presents a rare opportunity to give the king more power. The generals need the backing of the king because they justified their 2014 coup by insisting they were doing it to protect the monarchy. Last year the military got their new constitution approved in a referendum and the king must approve it by May and apparently will do so as long as his requests are agreed to.

Where’s the “democratic majority in that you might ask. This is the StrategyPage answer:

Meanwhile the king is apparently also trying to negotiate a peace deal with the pro-democracy groups which have demonstrated that they still have the majority of voters with them. In late 2015 pro-democracy leader (and former prime minister) Thaksin Shinawatra called on his followers (the “red shirts”) to “play dead” for the moment and wait for the military government to allow elections. The military has agreed to elections in 2018 but only if some fundamental changes were made in the constitution. The king’s representatives have apparently been seeking a compromise deal that would allow Thaksin Shinawatra and other exiled democracy leaders to come home and abide by the new rules.

If there is any truth in this – it may just be an old story rehashed – then recent events have interesting potential meanings: think Jumpol Manmai as one once said to be close to Thaksin; think of Suthep Thaugsuban’s testy reappearance and emphasis on “democracy under the king”; and then think of the military’s manic obsession with red shirt and firebrand Wuthipong Kachathamakul or Ko Tee. There’s more:

Since 2014 the troops have been ordered to arrest anyone who appeared to be leading resistance to the coup, but the anti-coup sentiments were so widespread that trying to decapitate the opposition by taking most leaders out of action did not work. The opposition had plenty of competent replacements for lost leaders and those leaders did not call for a civil war.

We do not get that sense of the red shirt opposition and certainly not from the Puea Thai Party. We actually think the military goons have succeeded in cowing much of the opposition, often through nasty but carefully planned example, i.e. capturing leaders and making their life a public misery so as to frighten others.

StrategyPage continues:

The king and the generals recognize that most Thais are fed up with the coups…. The royals have learned to keep their heads down, even though the military has always been staunchly royalist. The army and the king now seek to change this deadlock with “reforms” in the existing constitution.

We don’t think this is all true. The royals’ heads are always visible, scheming, wheedling, getting wealthy and allowing their status to be used against “threats.” Do they recognize that Thais are fed up with coups? Probably, but they can still pull them off whenever they feel the need to.

While the red shirts have lots of popular support, most Thais are more interested in economic issues and the army has not been able to deal with that because of widespread opposition to military rule in Thailand and abroad. The economic problems cannot be ignored…. So the army is paying attention to economic problems and is not doing so well at it.

That’s an understatement! The economy is looking awful and the junta is at a loss as to what to do. Its infrastructure projects are a mess of verbiage and little action. But StrategyPage has an upside (if you buy the “deal” notion):

The new 2017 compromise will restore elections with the king and armed forces believing they now have more power when the country is run by an elected government. The democrats note that long-term the kings and dictators lose. Most royalists recognize that if the king becomes too unpopular the monarchy could be abolished…. Actions have consequences.

Read in total, the article is highly contradictory, but the notion of the “deal” pops up often enough for this page to get a run.





Reporting palace re-ordering

20 03 2017

The palace-based machinations that have seen dozens of officials sacked, ousted, jailed and promoted has been watched internationally for sign of how the king can be considered going forward, as a problem, a threat or something else.

The Straits Times reports that “[m]ore than 30 notices related to Thailand’s palace staff were made public on the Royal Gazette website last week, providing a rare window into the preferences of newly installed King…”.

These notices seem to have been hastily produced to allow the king to escape overseas to Germany for some rest from the hectic tasks of … well, we don’t know. He certainly hasn’t been pushing his pen across the signature line on the much delayed military constitution. Nor do we know officially why he is in Germany although this should be public given that he remains king and has not appointed a regent.

The notices issued were for “various dates and signed by Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha, also suggest that a shake-up has been taking place among palace staff.” The report continues:

One notice said that King Vajiralongkorn stripped an army major-colonel of his rank last month for “improper manner and behaviour” and “disputing royal observation”. In the same notice, the offending major-colonel [PPT doesn’t know this rank] was also described as “arrogant”, “negligent”, “insubordinate” and “lazy”.

Another commander was similarly stripped of her rank last month because she “did not improve herself, lacked enthusiasm, was idle and lacked correct judgment”.

At least four other officers were stripped of their ranks because they had been promoted twice in six months against the rules.

At the same time, royal decorations were handed out like candy at a children’s birthday party: “royal decorations were granted to 25 officers serving in King Vajiralongkorn’s royal guard unit, and privy councillor Kampanat Ruddit.”

The report notes that these “recent announcements come on the back of very public downfalls of some of the King’s senior aides” that saw a “grand chamberlain in charge of security and special affairs, Jumpol Manmai, … sacked for allegedly committing grave misconduct and having political interests deemed harmful to national security.” He’s now in an undisclosed jail that is likely the king’s personal jail.

Jumpol’s downfall was immediately preceded by that of “Chitpong Thongkum, an air vice-marshal who had served in the King’s bodyguard unit, was fired and stripped of all military ranks for reportedly stealing royal property and disclosing the King’s health records.” He’s in jail too.

The story goes on to report the secret dealings between the junta and the prince over the still languishing constitution. Perhaps both the king and the military junta have had second thoughts about the constitution and want it dead again. At least they now have a “plot” that can allow for further even delays.

As to how all this links to the goings-on in the palace, that’s anyone’s guess due to secrecy and threats of lese majeste.





“Reforming” almost everything

9 03 2017

Royal edicts are proliferating, removing royally-bestowed titles on Wat Dhammakaya monks. That they had them in the first place raises a question or two about regime and palace transitions over the past few years.

Meanwhile several of the monks have appeared in court, (seemingly not defrocked).

The junta says the standoff with Wat Dhammakaya will end in five days. How, exactly, we are not told, but it may be that troops and police will reoccupy the temple and arrest monks and their supporters. There are already more than 340 cases against the temple, 20 arrest warrants have been issued and a further 70 summons orders have been issued.

We all know that the military dictatorship tasked itself with an anti-democratic agenda of “reforming politics” when it seized power, and that this was in line with the demands of anti-democrats like the Democrat Party and its scion the People’s Democratic Reform Committee, led by Suthep Thaugsuban and others. One of the “others” was the fascist monk Buddha Issara. He has also been prominent in pushing for the end of Wat Dhammakaya.

What we may not have expected was that the military dictatorship would decide to “reform” Buddhism in Thailand as well, although an article at New Mandala recently suggested this.

Now this new reform cat is out of the bag. In a report at The Nation, it is said that the junta will “soon propose that the Supreme Sangha Council [SSC] and the National Office of Buddhism (NOB) speed up reforms in Buddhism…”. As is its habit, the junta has formed a “reform panel” and the SSC has “assigned three senior monks to join [it].”

“Reforming” Buddhism, “reforming” politics and maintaining control of the state and its budgets is a practice the interventionist and murderous army has long benefited from, along with its palace allies. “Reforming” the military and the monarchy is not on the cards.





More junta maneuvering

8 03 2017

Several reports today show the slithering maneuverings by the junta promise more junta, more censorship and more corruption.

The first story follows from another a couple of days ago on more “delays” to the “election” schedule. Now the chief constitution launderer Meechai Ruchupan has apparently agreed that it may be late 2018 before there’s an “election.” Our view is that the military dictatorship intends to stay put for as long as possible and then ensure that it continues as an “elected” government. While even well laid plans get skittled, it looks like Thailand is under the military boot for a lot longer.

The second story is about the junta shutting down the BBC. It seems the “BBC World Service has stopped broadcasting from one of its major global transmission stations situated in Thailand … after talks broke down with a junta riled by its uncensored coverage.”

The BBC’s transmitter in Thailand and is the “network’s main shortwave broadcast station for Asia.” It is clear that the 20-year lease has not been renewed because the junta wants BBC and BBC Thai to be censored. The junta is a bunch of knuckle draggers who want to control Thailands past and present. It will only get worse as the junta has to cover-up its own corruption and clean the palace’s dirty laundry.

The third story, totally predictable, is of the continuing failure to do anything serious about the Rolls Royce corruption. The National Anti-Corruption Commission (NACC) “will decide on Thursday whether to set up a subcommittee to investigate allegations of bribery involving UK-based jet-engine maker Rolls-Royce and some Thai companies.” How wonderful! No other progress…. We assume that’s the way the junta prefers it.





Updated: Chitpong sentenced on lese majeste

4 03 2017

Embedded in a story on the now officially disgraced palace flunkey Jumpol Manmai, his wife and others, was a brief comment on the quick end to a lese majeste case also associated with the palace and the grumpy and vindictive King Vajiralongkorn.

Just a few days ago, we posted that Air Vice Marshal Chitpong Thongkum, who served with the King’s bodyguard, had been sacked for alleged misconduct claimed to be damaging to the royal household.

chitpongChitpong was stripped of his military ranks and eight royal decorations for “offenses” that were said to include stealing royal property, disclosing the king’s personal health records and failing to report to duty. It was not entirely clear what he had done to send the king into a rage.

At the time, we said we guessed that means a lese majeste charge would follow.

They did. And in record time, Chitpong has been in court and sentenced to “five years and six months for lese majeste and four other charges including theft at a state office and violations of the Cosmetics Act. He was also fined Bt25,000.”

We guess this was a secret trial. [Update: it was in a military court.]

As is usually the case in all lese majeste cases and not just those involving kingly bile, Chitpong’s sentence was “reduced by half as Chitpong admitted all the charges before the court.” We guess he had no choice or he might have faced death in custody. His lese majeste sentence of five years was halved.

There is little information available on the case. Palace involvement, secret trials, forced guilty pleas and fear mean that those close to the king who get the boot are considered dangerous to report on and it is accepted that the king’s decisions, no matter how nasty can’t be adequately reported.

Update: A couple of wire stories on the case are now available. They are:

AFP, 4 March 2017: “Thai king’s former aide jailed for royal defamation

Reuters, 3 March 2017: “Thailand jails former palace aide for royal defamation

Both make the point that this case is one in a growing list of persons in the prince-now-king’s household who have been purged since late 2014.





Palace punishment

4 03 2017

PPT has posted on the travails of former top cop and top aide to King Vajiralongkorn, Police General Jumpol Manmai.

jumpol-shavedAs has been something of a pattern when the prince-cum-king tires of people or he believes they have done him down in some way, Jumpol was first rumored to be in trouble, then legal cases were mentioned, followed by his disappearance. When he reappeared, like others, his head was shaved and he refused to apply for bail and entered guilty pleas on the legal accusation.

The Nation has a series of photos of what is a public humiliation of the former confidante to the king. Accounts on social media and The Nation report speak of dozens of photographers and reporters fighting for a piece of the new public face of the now officially disgraced Jumpol.

SuriyanThose reporters know that Jumpol is lucky to reappear – others, like Suriyan Sujaritpalawong have died.

Oddly, a later report in The Nation manages to mangle events, actually writing that “Jumpol surrendered to the Crime Suppression Division to face the charges…”.

The reporters also know that land encroachment charges seem rather “light” if Jumpol is really to be disgraced as others usually face lese majeste charges.

After all, not that long ago, former appointed premier, coup plotter and Privy Councilor General Surayud Chulanont was seen to have engaged in forest encroachment and nothing legal seemed to happen to him. He was still able to remain on the Privy Council as he apparently retained the support of General Prem Tinsulanonda and the palace. At the time, Surayud was seen as a leading light in the anti-Thaksin-cum-yellow shirt machinations against Thaksin Shinawatra and his parties and supporters.

Another reason for huge interest in the Jumpol case is that he is widely considered to have provided a link between Thaksin and the prince-now-king. The evidence for this is seen in some Wikileaks speculation and because Jumpol was treated as a Thaksin man by the former Abhisit Vejjajiva regime, despite his links to the then prince.

The police state they “have yet to charge him with violating Article 112 of the Criminal Code, which involves lese majeste,” so it seems that this step is likely.

After his initial appearance, the military used one of their aircraft to take Jumpol to Nakorn Ratchasima for several legal matters associated with land encroachment.

One further step in the palace punishment process is to also charge family members as “accomplices.” These people may have committed real crimes, but their position close to a now “failed” royal relationship also places them at risk and they also get disgraced.

In this quite feudal and narcissistic approach to “relationships” has now seen Jumpol’s wife appear to be charged. Unusually, the police banned reporters from taking photographs of her.

She is described as having “turned herself in to police yesterday to face the same [forest encroachment] charges. She is reported to have “denied some of the charges against her, but allegedly made partial admissions during the police interrogation.” She was released on bail.

It is also reported that:

three other defendants had been released on bail after police investigators concluded that they were unlikely to flee. They were identified as Region 5 Police deputy commissioner Pol Maj-General Pongdej Prommijit, his wife Chanasit Pisitwanit, and her relative Manop Plodkhoksoong.

We suspect there’s a lot more to play out in this case.